Missing Maori dilemma

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Health boss and rebel doctor wrangle over PHO’s low roll.

Doubts are flying over why Maori are heavily under-represented in the patient count of the Wakatipu’s Primary Health Organisation.

Explaining why only 539 out of a census total of 1400 local Maori are enrolled in his PHO, chairman Tony Hill mainly puts it down to Queenstown’s Mountain Lake Medical Centre’s “very large Maori roll”.

Mountain Lake, run by stand-alone GP Michael Stephens, hasn’t joined the PHO, which comprises the large Queenstown Medical Centre and the medium-size Wakatipu Medical Centre.

Because of the low PHO-enrolled numbers, Hill suggests local Maori could be bypassed by targeted
Government health initiatives.

“The Government, who put funding out for the Maori population, could look at the Wakatipu and say there are only 539 [in the PHO], it’s not a big issue.”

Hill stresses local Maori aren’t suffering now but might miss out in future.

He respects Stephens’s freedom of choice not to join the PHO and states he provides “a very good service”.

But Stephens, who’s practised locally for 18 years, says Hill “has got it completely and utterly and totally wrong”.
Even 20 Maori patients at his Mountain Lake clinic “would almost be an exaggeration” – Stephens estimates he sees only two or three a month.

He’d see more Indians and Nepalese than Maori, Stephens says – his clinic is popular with foreigners because he charges less for work-permit medicals.

Stephens won’t comment on why he’s not in the Wakatipu PHO, which has 15,774 enrolled patients: “It wasn’t a concept I endorsed.”

Although PHO patients are subsidised by the Government, Stephens still charges his patients less than rival GP practices – his standard adult consultation is $45, compared with $48 at Wakatipu Medical Centre and $49.50 at Queenstown Medical Centre for their PHO patients.

Hill says Stephens can charge less because “he’s got no infrastructure”.

The PHO boss confirms his organisation has a Maori health plan in place, as required by the government.

“It’s been accepted by the district health board and we are slowly implementing it. We are looking to have our first Maori health day in early November.”

Meanwhile, Hill reveals his seven-member board’s annual directors’ fees are $48,000.